Cushing Academy was honored to welcome the 2014 U.S. Women’s Olympic Ice Hockey Team Captain, Meghan Duggan ’06, as this year’s Commencement speaker. A two-time Olympic silver medalist and four-time world champion, Meghan is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she led the nation in scoring her senior year and won the prestigious Patty Kazmaier Award given annually to the best female collegiate player. Among her many Cushing accolades, Meghan was elected class president each of her four years at Cushing, was the recipient of the Bette Davis Award as the top three-season varsity female athlete in her class for three years, and received the Cushing Academy Leadership Award in 2010.
Below is her address to the Class of 2014 and the Cushing community.
For a video of her address, please click here
“Students, faculty and staff, parents, relatives, friends, and everyone else lucky enough to be here today: Good morning and congratulations to the Cushing Academy graduating class of 2014!
Headmaster Torino contacted me back in January and asked me to give today's commencement address. Seeing as I proudly tell almost everyone I meet that this place changed my life, I could not have been more honored by his invitation. I want to thank him and all of Cushing for asking me to be here, celebrating such an important milestone in the lives of the seniors.
Of course I initially thought to myself, what are those high school students going to want to hear from me? Being a four-year senior myself, I sat through 4 underclass awards ceremonies, and 4 graduations here under this very same tent on the Common. I would like to consider myself very attentive when it comes to events such as this but as most of you probably are right now, I made sure I was sitting next to or around my closest friends for whispering purposes. With that being said, I also know that some of you underclassmen are sitting here thinking about how the seniors get to leave today and you still have exams next week. And some of you seniors are daydreaming about throwing jeans on and lighting a celebratory cigar on campus without Mr. Connors or Mr. Macioci reprimanding you. Or maybe all of the students are trying to figure out how and when you can snap your next selfie.
So again, what do you as students want to hear from me? Standing up here today, I'm not a Founder and CEO of a major company; I'm not an author of a best-selling novel, or a host of a TV show. I'm not a doctor, or a lawyer, and I haven't yet come up with that billion-dollar idea that will change the world. Yet. Technically, right now, I play hockey for a living.
I did, however, sit right where you are sitting, only 8 years ago.
In September of 2002, I packed up my parents’ car in Danvers and drove with my mom and dad out here to Ashburnham. I was so nervous I could barely speak. Or breathe. I'm not kidding, I probably was more nervous at that point than I have been before playing for any of the Olympic or world championship gold medals.
I'm not sure if my nerves were coming from the obvious: moving away to boarding school when I was only 14. Or from thinking about running Coach Horgan’s timed mile during soccer pre-season.
When we pulled onto campus, we made it just about to Lowe Hall and I told my dad urgently that he needed to stop the car. I immediately opened the backseat door and threw up all over the sidewalk. Quite the first impression I made. Instantly my parents thought they were making a huge mistake. I had always been an independent kid but maybe, they thought, this was just going to be too much for me. Over the next few days, being exhausted from pre-season, anxious about who my roommate would be, and having my room phone shut off every night at 8 was not a great combination for me.
(You’re probably all laughing thinking about how I couldn’t just sneak my cell phone out during study hall and text or call someone… I can’t imagine how the teachers and proctors on duty monitor students now that cell phones exist, hats off to you all.)
Anyways, about a week into classes starting that year, I called my parents and told them I was going to run for Freshman Class President. My mom since told me that as soon as I made that phone call, she knew I was going to be just fine. And so it began.
In the four years to follow, I:
-Raced to the top of Mount Monadnock 4 times on Mountain Day
-Dressed up one day in only clothes from the Give and Take boxes in Alumni/Sawyer
-Snuck a kiss from an upperclassman hockey guy at the Halloween dance in the gym
-Cried in Sooz's office when I couldn’t meet a deadline for one of her papers assigned
-Sang "Seasons of Love" and other songs in the winter chorus concert
-Ran so many 1 mile School Boy loops, I lost count
-Snuck out of my room after lights out only to be caught and sent back by Ms. Reinoso
-Volunteered for Dana Farber at the Boston Marathon and in lots of different locations for Tony Fisher Day
-Captured a couple EG Watkins championships with Coach Kennedy and the hockey team, and was part of a undefeated lacrosse season in 2006 under the direction of Ms. Roller and Ms. Devin
-Launched rockets in Mr. Kublbeck’s physics class and dissected cats in Mr. Wenning’s AP Anatomy and Physiology class
-Dove headfirst down Hockey Hill in the mud in my purple and greys when it was pouring rain out one spring afternoon
-Sword fought Dr. Carey as part of my Lord of the Rings class final exam
-Stole an entire tray of cookies from the dining hall and brought them to the dorm with my notorious partners in crime, Erika Lawler, Lindsay Wilde, Hayley Moore, and Stacy Silverman.
In my four years at Cushing I met people and had experiences that changed my life. I grew tremendously as a kid, and learned a little bit more about who I was, but also who I wanted to be. In the 8 years since I graduated from here, I have certainly learned a lot more about myself and I credit my time at Cushing for much of that growth. It’s almost hard for all of you to see it now, but the values instilled in you by Cushing, and the experiences you have had here, have prepared you for many of the challenges that lie ahead.
And trust me when I say the challenges WILL COME. No one's road to success is easy. (If you ever do meet that person to whom fame, fortune, success and glory came easy, you probably won’t like that person very much.) You are all about to embark on a new journey in your life, and I'm sure many of you have aspirations to be incredible at whatever it is that you choose. And you will be. I'm here to share with you, and remind you that it’s okay, during that journey, to be uncomfortable. To hit rock bottom. Or to fail.
Nearly all of the people you see on TV, or the ones you hear about and deem "successful" have lived through the dark days at one point along their journey. What has made them successful is how they chose to respond to the dark days.
A great teacher here at Cushing once told a group of us, "Sometimes you need to take one step back before you can take two steps forward." I always kept his words in mind, but I never really understood them until I lived through the dark days, literally.
In the fall of 2011, my hockey career seemed to be on the rise. I had won 3 National Championships and the Patty Kazmaier Award at Wisconsin, 3 World Championships with Team USA, and captured a silver medal at my first Olympic games in Vancouver. I was finishing up my degree in Madison and training full time for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. By full time I mean multiple times a day, 7 days a week, without ever taking a single day completely off for four straight months. I was obsessed. Obsessed with hockey. Everything I did. Everything I ate. All of my interactions and conversations were clouded by "the next time I could get my training in". I thought back then that I was putting myself in a position to be everything I wanted to be: The best athlete. The most fit. The fastest. The strongest. I had a lot to learn.
With the mindset I had at that point, nothing could have been worse than being 100% sidelined from hockey and any training with an injury that no one could see, no one could explain, and no one could provide a timeline for. Of course, that is exactly what happened.
I suffered a major blow to the back of the head in a training camp around Christmastime that year. I had had quite a few minor concussions in my college career but nothing like this. It took my feet right out from under me. I was miserable. I moved back into my parents’ house, and lived in a dark room for the first four months of the injury. I had migraines. I couldn’t sleep. I could barely eat. I didn't leave the house. I barely talked to anyone except my parents because interactions with others were too difficult for my brain to engage in. I was nauseous. Anxious. Depressed. Angry. And the list goes on and on. The symptoms and irritability continued for another eight to nine months, over a year in total. People began to ask me, "Does it scare you to think that you may never play again, Megs?" My initial thought was, "of course it does, but it scares me more that I feel like I may never have my life back". This was my rock bottom.
For 13 months, I struggled. For 13 months, I was uncomfortable. For 13 months, I thought to myself, why is this happening? And when is it going to be over?
"Sometimes you need to take one step back before you can take two steps forward."
Those 13 months taught me more about myself than I ever had known before. I was struggling to the point where I felt like I wanted to give up on everything, but I didn't. I wrapped my head around the fact that I was probably stopped dead in my tracks by this injury so that I could learn something. And once I opened my mind, eyes, and ears to the world and what I was supposed to learn, it gave me hope.
I learned 3 major things through this challenge that I want to share with you, and I want you to take with you as you move forward from today.
1. Be mindful of where you are in any given minute of your life.
I was on the fast track to my own hockey success; I forgot to be present. If you're constantly in a rush, there is a good chance you will miss out on something in the now. You don’t always have to know exactly where you are going or what the next step is. Don't be afraid to listen to yourself when your mind tells you, "You're exactly where you need to be."
2. Take action and knock on doors, but be patient when you need to be.
I have never in my life been the most patient person, nor will I ever be. But I would like to consider myself to be growing towards having more patience. When I first was injured, there wasn’t a friend, family member, doctor, mentor, or coach who I listened to when they told me to slow down and just be patient. I came to realize, that my lack of patience wasn't making anything better. My advice to you is, go after what you want. Train. Work hard. Study. Knock on doors. But when those compromising moments do come, and it is in your best interest to be patient...Be patient. Don't forget to breathe.
3. The people you are surrounded by every single day, MATTER.
I would consider myself a people person, and before my injury I got so caught up in my own passions and my own training that I wasn't paying attention to what other people in my life were passionate about. As you move on from Cushing, you are going to meet so many more people of all different ages, races, backgrounds, and people with aspirations that are far different than yours. I challenge you to listen to them and let yourself be inspired by what they are passionate about.
I recovered fully from my injury in January of 2013 and led my team to a World Championship gold medal that April. Soon after, I was chosen to lead the team as our captain at this most recent Olympic games in Russia. Hitting rock bottom, and learning what I needed to learn about myself, made me a better person and teammate, a more coachable athlete, and a more successful leader.
To all of you graduating seniors, whose names have already been engraved into the bricks lining the walkway to the Main Building, Congratulations.
You are joining a world-class group of Cushing Alumni (if I do say so myself) and you are entering a new and exciting chapter of your life.
College is tough, and sometimes life just isn’t fair. Hard situations surface and disappointment stings. When you are faced with a challenge and you want to give up, open your mind, eyes, and ears. Let yourself learn from that challenge, and you'll get through it. You'll even be better on the other side.
Thank you again for allowing me to be a part of this very special day within the Cushing community, and CONGRATULATIONS to the Class of 2014.”